Willy Russell’s popular play ‘Educating Rita’ is set in the 1970s in the inner city of Liverpool. This cleverly written play, follows a young girl in her twenties, as she battles between the reality of her poor background, and her burning ambition of becoming educated. At the beginning of the play Rita is working as a hairdresser, and living in a council house with her boyfriend, factory worker Denny. She seems to be trapped in a place where she doesn’t belong.
Simply trying to fit in as she has done ever since her school life. Rita wants to break free, find her place in life.
She’s the one in so many who just won’t accept the utomatic life style, that she inherited from her parents. As the play unfolds we see Rita find her missing piece, an education. Additionally what becomes more interesting is seeing her teacher, Frank, wanting the opposite in life. To break free from having what Rita wants, he can’t understand the need for, as I quote from one occasion, “pretentious, characterless and without style” literacy.
We can see Frank, an educated lecturer, turn to drink as an escape root from the world he lives in.
Although when he teaches Rita, this in itself is an escape for him, someone different to study and admire. For his life is filled ith well educated, well off folk, whom Frank isn’t fond of. But is this because he takes for granted what so many people can’t have? Linguistically, ‘Educating Rita’ gives it’s audience many things to digest.
Willy Russell cleverly and vividly displays a story of two sides. As we follow Rita in her battle to be something, someone. And as we follow Frank becoming sick of the pretend shield which education gives us.
Shortly into the play, we find Rita and Frank in one of their lessons. To begin with Frank doesn’t see the potential in Rita. He seems frustrated and he certainly isn’t used to dealing with uneducated students. When you come into this room you do anything except start working immediately. ” Throughout this scene Rita seems down and depressed, as she mutters short, sharp sentences to Frank, “I haven’t got it”, and so on. We can sense that desperate feeling from Rita of trying to fit in. Additionally it’s this scene that Frank begins to realise the big difference in social class.
The next section of this scene implies various things of large significance to us. When Rita says, “So are all the Chekhov books you lent me. Denny found out I was on the pill again; it was my fault, I left the prescription out. He burnt all me books. We the audience understand the sort of environment Rita lives in. Denny seems to be set on having a baby and settling down, and quite simply has probably never come across the word ambition.
Further more it seems Rita is the complete opposite, “I’m busy enough finding’ meself, let alone findin’ someone else. We now see the intriguing contrast between an unsettled but determined Rita, and her typically laid back pessimistic husband, Denny. Further down the scene Denny’s ignorance is again portrayed as Rita says, “I’m not havin’ it off with Anton Chekhov. He said, ‘I wouldn’t put it past you to shack up with a foreigner ‘. Here Rita is telling Frank that Denny didn’t even know who Anton Chekhov was, further more he didn’t even understand that Rita was referring to the burnt books. This is the first time in many that Rita uses humour as a bridge for serious issues.
Here Rita is almost juxtaposing herself and Denny, and as a result we can see the contrast in the two characters. Adding to the comment I made on Denny’s ignorance. He burns the books in hope of burning away Rita’s ideas and ambitions. However, he doesn’t understand that Rita is set on becoming educated and fulfilling her dream. And so despite Denny’s efforts, nothing will deter her. This again shows us the level of Denny’s intelligence and allows us to match this with his social upbringing. In this scene it’s the first time that the audience register Rita’s ever changing character.
Frank asks her if she loves Denny and she replies, “I see him looking at me sometimes, I know what he’s thinking”, “where’s that girl he married gone to”, here we can see that Rita is quickly changing and leaving Denny behind. Rita is quite clearly opening up to herself now, she seems to be coming out of her shell and gradually becoming unafraid of admitting it. Another passage which brings to light various points of interest, comes just fter Rita has returned from her summer camp. Where she spent time learning and getting to know other students.
Rita has learnt a lot, and seems to be much more intelligent than Frank anticipates. Where as before Rita would simply listen to Frank as he taught, she starts to contribute and to argue different views. The passage begins with Rita saying. “Look Frank, I don’t have to go along one hundred percent with your views on Blake y’ know. I can have a mind of my own can’t I? ” This passage is a prime example of Rita’s growing independence. We can clearly see that Rita is changing into the person she once dreamt of being, and Frank ost certainly isn’t keen. “I sincerely hope so, my dear. ”
And what’s that supposed to mean? ” ” It means-it means be careful. ” So we can see that Frank doesn’t like this sudden change of character on Rita’s behalf. In the beginning Frank saw someone who was different, and perhaps he fancied her for that reason. Now Rita is turning into one of them, the regular students. Someone that Frank sees everyday. Further down the passage Rita says, ” I’m not an idiot now, Frank-I don’t need you to hold my hand as much”. So we see now that Frank is relying more on Rita. She used to be his way out, a substitute for the drink.
In this scene Frank thinks it will all be the same, although she has inevitably changed and left Frank behind. Rita just didn’t realise how much, an for what reasons Frank relied on her. She couldn’t comprehend why someone who seemed to have everything could find so much stimulation in someone who thought she had nothing. If we go back to when Frank first met Rita. We can see how incredible Rita’s transformation of character is. Here Rita and Frank are once again alone and in deep conversation. Rita spots an erotic picture and is quite intrigued to know about the history of the painting.
That’s a nice picture isn’t it? ” Frank then replies non-comically. “Erm yes-I suppose it is-nice” “It’s very erotic. ” “Actually I don’t think I’ve looked at it for about ten years, but yes, I suppose it is. ” We can see Frank quickly tries to get rid of some of the rising tension. Rita is also speaking very bluntly and perhaps uneducated. Which again reinforces her inability to express her feelings linguistically. Further down the passage Rita says something which is absolutely correct and implies she has the potential to make certain intelligent observations. “This was the pornography of its day, wasn’t it?
It’s sort of like men only isn’t it? But in those days they had to pretend it wasn’t erotic so they made it religious didn’t they? ” Rita is absolutely right in what she’s saying. She just simply doesn’t have the ability to speak politely, in a way Frank is used to. However Frank actually admires her inability to express her feelings the way he does. It’s something which he doesn’t often come across, and this scene seems to lay the foundation for their relationship. If we go back to the scene when Rita had just been to see Macbeth at the theatre. We can see what first captured her interest into literature and language.
And additionally what hints the scene gives us into Rita’s ever growing ambition . At the beginning of the scene Rita comes racing in to Frank with bubbling excitement. She’s just been to see Macbeth, and is overwhelmed with the drama and excitement portrayed by Shakespeare. Her first line is very interesting and again shows Rita’s inability to speak linguistically so. “Wasn’t his wife a cow eh? An’ that fantastic bit where he meets Macduff an’ he thinks he’s all invincible. ”
Rita has clearly digested every bit of action from the play, and is intrigued further as to know if the play was a tragedy. I’m going to. Macbeth’s a tragedy isn’t it? Here the audience can register Rita slowly becoming dragged in to the puzzle of literacy. We can sense Rita’s growing ambition, and her desire to break into that small proportion of people who understand the ins and outs of literature and language. Further down Frank begins to explain to her the difference between a tragedy and something that’s tragic. “Well I better get back. I’ve left a customer with a perm lotion. If I don’t get a move on there’ll be another tragedy. “No. There won’t be a tragedy. ” “There will y’ know.
I know this woman; she’s dead fussy. If her perm doesn’t come out right there’ll be blood an’ guts everywhere. “Which might be quite tragic-but it won’t be a tragedy. ” From then on Rita answers Frank with short one or two word sentences, as if she just wants him to carry on I. e. “What? “, “No”, “So-so Macbeth brings it on himself? ” Rita’s short sentences show her growing intrigue, but also reinforce her ignorance due to her social upbringing. All the way through prior to Frank speaking, he seems to be extremely hesitant when he’s about to speak to Rita.
Almost as if he doesn’t want to patronise her with the technical language he uses, I. e. ” Well-erm look;” Towards the end of the scene, Rita realises her own ignorance towards these ertain aspects of language. Frank says, “It’s quite easy really, Rita. ” And Rita replies, “It is for you. I just thought it was just a dead exciting’ story. But the way you tell it, you make me see all sorts of things in it. It’s fun, tragedy isn’t it? All them out there, they know all about this sort of thing don’t they? “. Rita thinking tragedy is “fun” is most certainly unintentionally ironic.
In addition I think Rita is impressed with Frank’s knowledge, although Frank is more in admiration for Rita, as he rarely comes across people that equal her calibre of intelligence. What he doesn’t realise is that whilst he’s appy teaching Rita now, he is slowly changing Rita in to the person she dreams of being. Frank likes Rita as she is, and admires her because she’s different, So if Frank had the benefit of hindsight, perhaps he wouldn’t of put so much effort into teaching Rita. Shortly after the above scene, Rita and Frank are again alone and in one of their lessons. Rita is daydreaming, she likes the idea of being a “proper student”.
She looks down onto the lawn below Frank’s office as she says, “I love that lawn down there. In the summer do they sit on it? ” Here we can see Rita is becoming very envious of the students. She admires their lifestyle and her need to become one of them is slowly becoming clearer. Frank however sees the students as nothing but mislead inhabitants of a rich snobbish culture, and he barely shows any respect for them. But as the scene unfolds, Rita starts to describe her school life to Frank, and we can he that he starts to realise that not many people have access to an education, for many different reasons.
Nah, just normal, y’ know; borin’, ripped up books, broken glass everywhere. Knives an’ fights. An’ that was just the staff room. Nah, they tried their best I suppose, always telling’ us we stood a better chance if we studied. But studying’ was for the wimps, wasn’t it? See if I’d started takin’ school seriously I’d a been different from my mates, and that’s not allowed. ” Here the audience get a vivid picture of what Rita’s school life was actually like. The peer pressure was obviously immense, and so now is the only time in Rita’s life, she has had the chance to admit her true feelings and ambitions.
She is again using humour as a vehicle for serious issues, always trying to make light of her dismal past. There was clearly no work ethos in Rita’s school, and so now she desperately wants to regain that opportunity of having an education. In Rita’s last speech of the scene, she reveals that despite her poor and uneducated background, she would always question life. She says that “there was always something’ tappin’ away, telling’ me I might have got it all wrong. ” So in other words Rita would think philosophically about life. She was reluctant to be in the position and lifestyle she was in.
Therefore we understand that she had the definite potential to become what she wanted, to find her play in life. Despite these rattling questions inside her head, she didn’t believe she was capable of breaking out of her current situation. And so she’d hide away her eeling by “telling herself life’s great” or by going out shopping to take her mind off things. It was these things that kept Rita going, they stopped her putting life into perspective. Towards the end of the play Frank seems to have had enough. With himself, with Rita’s ever growing education, and with his routine life.
His drinking habit has reached its climax, and Rita can’t bear him any longer. Rita appreciates what he’s done for her, although she doesn’t like his constant self pitying and the way he seems to exploit his god given gift. At the beginning he liked Rita because she was fresh, now she’s educated like ll his other students and he doesn’t like that. Rita accuses Frank of taking for granted the things in which she has worked so hard for. “It’s little to you who squanders every opportunity and mocks and takes for granted. ” But of course for Frank every lesson was simply an escape, and now Rita has changed into the very person she destined to be.
And Frank has been stripped of that luxury weekly lesson. What seems more interesting is that Frank has come away with nothing and Rita has come away with an education. The irony here is that Rita is the only one who really understands and has insight into Frank’s character. He is just unaware of how he “squanders every opportunity” and “mocks and takes for granted”. All the way through this scene Frank is drunk, and so we assume the insults which toll of his tongue are spontaneous and perhaps a little rash. I think he’s just annoyed that she is such a changed character.
He was so found of the fresh an innocent woman who first walked through his door. She stimulated him, made him look forward to the next lesson. His life was definitely much better when Rita was around, and he depended on her for company and perhaps arousal. At this point in the play Rita just doesn’t understand why Frank is acting the ay he is. She doesn’t know how he relied on her for certain things, those things which he couldn’t find anywhere else. Another speech by Frank which is so cleverly written by Willy Russell and is most certainly for me a very moving part of the play.
Comes after the accusation by Rita when Frank says. “Found a culture have you, Rita? Found a better song to sing have you? No-you’ve found a different song, that’s all-and on your lips it’s shrill and hollow and tuneless. ” Frank is absolutely right in what he’s saying. The fact that Rita is now educated doesn’t mean she has “found a better song to sing” at all. She has just most definitely “found a different song”. For some people, like Rita, who are brought up on a poor inner city estate. The life which Frank is living will most certainly be seen as better.
But for people like Frank, well off intelligent people, who come from the same descriptive background, they may well, as Frank is, be in admiration for the lifestyle in which Rita came from. The final point in which I am going to talk about, brings us to the lesson after Rita has been to Frank’s party, but couldn’t bring herself round to going inside. She walks into Frank’s office and we get the impression she’s very fed up with erself. She feels as though she’s the odd one out. “Well you wouldn’t take sweet sparkling wine, would y’? ” She starts to make excuses and tells him that she brought the wrong wine.
We can sense very clearly Rita’s frustration. Additionally we know that Rita felt very uncomfortable around Frank’s other guests, the well educated guests wearing the correct attire. She clearly feels she can’t fit in and we again see the contrast in social background. She says, “But I don’t want to be myself. Me? What’s me? Some stupid little woman who gives us all a laugh because she thinks she can learn, because she hinks that one day she’ll be like the rest of them, talking seriously, confidently, with knowledge, livin’ a civilized life.
The above quote reveals many things about Rita, fairly early on in the play. Rita is feeling down after seeing the contrast in characters between her and Franks other guests. She perhaps feels as though she’s fighting a lost cause in life. Frank tells her to be herself although this is the exact opposite person Rita wants to be. She’s becoming educated in order to change who she is. However this reinforces how Frank just wants Rita as she is, and can’t understand the eed for her to change.
This point of Frank being perhaps unaware of how Rita is changing, is brought up many times throughout the play. Which tells us that perhaps there’s a hint of dramatic irony in that he just doesn’t catch on. And towards the end Rita changes and leaves Frank behind. To dwell on where it all changed so suddenly without him realising. So we can finally appreciate the both sides of a very cleverly and wittily written play. Willy Russell tells almost two stories in unison, and the audience can digest both of them, with utter intrigue and admiration.